Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Of Truthers and truth

I have no doubt that every time one of those
Loose Change dickwads opens his mouth, a Republican somewhere picks up five votes.... [I]t's bad enough that people in this country think Tim LaHaye is a prophet and Sean Hannity is an objective newsman. But if large numbers of people in this country can swallow 9/11 conspiracy theory without puking, all hope is lost.
--Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone

Hoo, boy. Today I encountered a roomful (or so it seemed) of Loose Change types--in a graduate seminar. This was my first up-close-and-personal encounter with Truthers. I wielded Occam's Razor like a headsman's axe, but to no avail. I was ignoring the laws of physics! What about Building 7? Controlled explosions!

It did make me think, though, about my reasons for dismissing this all, rather rudely on this occasion, as "madness" and "raving." Why should I swallow the official line? It's not like we haven't been lied to before. I'm old enough to remember the Gulf of Tonkin incident, and being part of a small, despised minority who thought the whole incident was a crock, thanks to I.F. Stone's Weekly. Besides, the most harshly dismissive critics of alternative explanations for 9/11 are conservatives (well, not entirely). And besides, cui bono? Why, the Project for the New American Century folks--the neo-cons. "Further, the process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor." Which means, of course, that any such "catalyzing event" must have been engineered by this self-same bunch. Well, doesn't it?

OK, here's my take, based, not upon the physics of steel, the hole in the Pentagon, or Saudis winging their way out of the US to safety right after the event. I can only offer a witch's brew of common sense, logic and shavings from that razor I was mentioning. It's not very original: all's been said, and more eloquently, elsewhere. But the thought that bright graduate students can suspend their critical faculties to this extent forces me to blink, scratch my head, blink again, and write something down. Consider it therapy. The Truthers have a lot of unanswered questions. Well, so do I.

1) Why go to all the trouble and risk of stringing miles of wire and installing shaped charges in buildings that are open 24/7 and are full of people at all hours, when flying planes into the buildings alone would have sufficed to accomplish The Plan, even if they hadn't collapsed? (Note that I do not ask how this feat was accomplished, because there are no doubt intricate explanations involving twelve-foot lizards and Israel that I am in no position to refute.)

2) Why go through amazing hassles to disguise a controlled demolition by flying planes into buildings at the same time as the detonation, but then blow the lid off the whole scheme by doing the same thing to Building 7 without benefit of aircraft?

3) Why fire into the Pentagon when the WTC demolition would have accomplished The Plan without any need to attack a key US military installation?

4) In other words, why go to all of this immense labour, and (allegedly) involve hundreds or even thousands of people in a dangerous conspiracy, when most of it isn't even necessary to accomplish The Plan?

There are many versions of Trutherism, of course. Some border, not on the fantastic, but on the hallucinatory. The planes were drones: the real ones were diverted, and we'll never know what happened to the passengers. All the Jews who worked at the WTC stayed home that day. Small nukes were used.

If a sceptic merely insists that we don't know the whole story, that's a reasonable point to start from. But the rules of evidence haven't been suspended just because we don't like Bush. Could US intelligence have known about the plot and done nothing? Maybe--there is, after all, some debate in respectable circles about possible advance knowledge of Pearl Harbour, suppressed, it is claimed, to get the US into the Second World War.

But we need more than supposition. The whole nature of inquiry is to raise hypotheses, and, on the basis of evidence, to confirm, modify or reject them. In this case, calling for evidence is pointless: lurid hypotheses are self-proven by the remorseless logic of cui bono. 9/11 did provide the opportunity to enact a host of neo-con measures, from the suspension of habeas corpus to heavy domestic surveillance, from secret prisons and torture to the war in Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq. So what? 9/11 also made air travel a frustrating and tiresome experience for millions, but no one is accusing the bus companies of anything, or the security firms whose employees now make their living sticking wands into your armpits and confiscating salad dressing.

Looking for evidence to support hypotheses is fair enough, although it too often leads to excluding unsupportive evidence rather than modifying or abandoning the beloved hypothesis. Because there is something beguiling about the latter when it confirms your worst suspicions about the folks you already dislike and the politics you already despise.

You want to believe, don't you? But that way madness lies.

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